As a longtime church music minister and funeral director in East Austin and Manor, Barry J.W. Franklin has stood at the intersection of some of the most vexing challenges confronting African Americans: Health issues, such as diabetes and heart disease, and financial illiteracy.
Those challenges, he says, have diminished the quality of life for so many people he regularly interacts with in church pews and funeral homes – folks who have lost their inheritance, homes and health, essentially because they lacked the knowledge and savvy to address those issues timely.
On Saturday, Franklin is doing something about it by bringing experts, ranging from doctors and nurses to financial planners and insurance professionals to East Austin’s Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex — which by the way, should be renamed for the late Eric Mitchell, who as a council member in the 1990s secured the federal HUD dollars to build it.
That’s a story for another column. Back to Saturday’s event, from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m., at the entertainment complex, 1156 Hargrave St.
Thanks to a host of volunteers and Franklin, who is paying for the venue, barbecue and fixings, the event is free. All are welcome.
“African Americans need to be educated on important issues while they are living so they can improve their health, survive old-age with dignity and hold on to their homes and inheritance,” Franklin said, explaining why he is hosting what he calls “A Community Celebration of Health and Wealth.”
Franklin says the event will feature information and screenings regarding diabetes, heart disease, high and low blood pressure and cancer – several of the chronic illnesses that disproportionately afflict black Americans.
The good news for African Americans is that their death rate has decreased by 25 percent from 1999 to 2015, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The bad news is that African Americans, ages 18-49, are two times as likely to die from heart disease than whites; and they are 50 percent more likely to have high blood pressure than whites, according to the CDC.
Another overlooked health issue is oral care for children and adults. Franklin’s got that covered with dentists and other specialists who will be on hand to provide information about that. He wants to increase awareness of oral cancer and gum disease.
Franklin says he didn’t limit the health and wellness fair to health issues because finances also play an important role in a person’s quality of life.
“I’ve seen many people pass away and leave their estates to family members and others who aren’t equipped to handle those assets, back taxes and related matters,” Franklin said. “That lack of knowledge has contributed to people losing their homes in East Austin and putting folks in debt.”
Aside from financial and estate planning, experts will be on hand to discuss wills, trusts, reverse mortgages, social security and veteran benefits and various kinds of insurance.
Among those supporting Franklin’s event is the Rev. Henrietta Sullivan Mkwanazi, co-pastor for historic Metropolitan AME Church in East Austin.
“Even those of us with college degrees have a hard time distinguishing between whole life insurance and term life insurance,” she said. “This is three packed hours of knowledge on that and many other topics.”
Mkwanazi continued: “There is an old saying that ‘knowledge is power’ and people suffering from a lack of knowledge don’t know how to tap into the things that need to be done to improve their health and welfare.”
On Saturday, the public can tap in to what Mkwanazi called “free knowledge” at the community celebration.